Playing - and winning - on God’s team
Several weeks ago I visited the Confirmation class at the Cathedral. I told the students that I hadn’t written my confirmation homily yet and asked them for some suggestions about what to talk about so that I wouldn’t be boring.
Guess what they said: “Sports! Talk about sports, Bishop.” I told them I really didn’t feel up to it because all of my teams: the Giants, Rangers, Knicks and the Mets were doing or had done lousy. Then, I thought, well maybe I could talk about sports for just a minute. There is an obvious connection between our Catholic faith and one sport in particular. Did you know that many centuries ago, in an area not far from here, French Catholic missionaries saw Iroquois Indians playing a game outside using funny shaped sticks. The sticks reminded them of the Bishop’s staff, called a crosier. Do you know the name of that sport: lacrosse. OK, candidates, are you ready for the questions? Does anyone here know how many players there are on a baseball team? Basketball? Hockey? Football? If you said: nine, five, six, eleven - you’re wrong!
A team is made up of more than just the players on the field, on the court or on the ice at any given time. The team depends on every player, having certain skills, to do the best they can to develop and use those skills to build up the whole team: Some are pitchers. Some are catchers. Others are home run hitters, quarterbacks. We have goalies and defensemen. Some are shortstops. Each player has an important role to build up the team. Not one person can do everything.
What do you have to do to be a successful team member? You have to practice and practice and practice, developing your skills. As your mother insists, you should have a balanced diet to keep your body healthy and fit. Certain characteristics are, also, needed for whatever team you play on: knowledge: you’ve got to know the basics of the game, the fundamentals…how many outs to retire a side, what’s off sides; how to throw or catch a football; understanding: you’ve got to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses as well as that of your teammates and the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents; counsel: the good team player is willing to listen to and act upon the advice of his or her coach; fortitude (courage): you have to be ready to leap up higher, stretch further, skate faster, shoot harder than you’ve ever done before—risk giving 120% of yourself, doing more than you ever thought you could. Knowledge, understanding, fortitude, counsel---sound familiar?
Candidates, when did you become a member of God’s team? Baptism. Today, at your Confirmation, you will receive God’s Spirit in a very special way, enabling you to now come up to the plate as a big leaguer in the Body of Christ. Like a rookie on the team that goes through certain rituals or rites of initiation, our Church has a ritual whereby you become a full-fledged member, adult, major leaguer, if you will, of the team of believers, the Church and you are celebrating it now: the Rite of Confirmation, your final sacrament of initiation.
As a member of this team, you will receive certain gifts of God’s Spirit, that you are to use to build up the Church. Many of us, I know I did, have certain sport heroes who excelled in the sport. For me, it was Tom Seaver. Maybe for you it was a Wayne Gretzky, a Michael Jordan, or if you’re a Yankee fan, a Derek Jeter, or A Rod.
Our Church has centuries and centuries of heroes and heroines whose lives give outstanding model of how to live as a Catholic Christian. Each of you has selected one of them as your confirmation name. Just think, these saints are our sisters and brothers in this one family of faith to which you will soon be fully initiated.
Unlike a basketball or baseball or football team, where we outgrow our membership, in the Church, we grow even more into being good companions on the journey, following Christ. Your presence here today says that you desire to become a full member of the Church and to be an active participant…not just sitting on the bench, fascinated and preoccupied by the distractions of sins and all that entices us away from Christ and His Church.
Use those gifts of the Holy Spirit: courage…do what you know is right. Never mind what everybody else is doing! That’s how we build character. Be a person of integrity. Today, our world is in dire need of people of integrity. Understanding… your education in the Catholic faith must never stop, no matter how old you are. Learn more and more of the faith through the adult education programs offered by your parish, such as Bible Study. Counsel…listen to the guidance of the Church, obey the Commandments and, again, don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. Know that the Church will always be there for us…no matter where we might move to, no matter what our vocation in life might be.
During those times in your life when great things are happening, go to your parish and share and celebrate your joy. During those times in life when you are hurting, and there will be those times, go to your parish and be comforted and supported by the members of your faith family. Know that this Body of Christ, this family of faith, this team of believers, will always be there for you, praying, supporting, correcting and affirming you.
The best food for your spiritual diet is, of course, the Eucharist. Don’t just sit on the bench! Come to be nourished by the words of Scripture and with the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass each Sunday. Practice and practice and practice your Catholic faith. Build up this family of faith and your community.
Many of you already do as part of your Confirmation program. Now, however, these are not just one time projects you do in order to get through the class. No, now with an attitude of lifelong service, you have a lifetime project of extending yourself to help build up your parish, your community, and the world outside your community, in imitation of Christ.
Jesus tells us: Follow Me. Let’s do that by staying in top spiritual shape so that we may all support one another in our common journey to the Father’s House.
Bishop Terry R. LaValley visited the southernmost parish in his diocese - St. Mary’s Nativity Church in West Leyden - May 19 to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to 20 candidates. He is shown above with the candidates Anthony DeSantis, Nicholas Kraeger and Jessica Haig of St. Mary’s. Constableville; Emily Coscomb, Zachary Coscomb, Hannah Story, Rebecca Ortlieb and Chelsea Grenier of St. Mary’s Nativity, West Leyden; and the following from St. Johns, Lyons Falls and St.Martin’s, Port Leyden, Shawna Burdick, Alana Delano, Brandon Delano, Maria Delano, Michael Delano, Gabrielle Domagala, Kristina Kraeger, Alena Nagy, Cory Poore, Nicholas Ripp, John Smith and Ryan Teal.